The winner of the Investec Derby will join racing greats

THE INVESTEC Derby is one of the highlights of the social and sporting calendar. Watched live by 125,000 people, it is not for nothing that the Investec Derby is known as the world’s greatest flat race. The Derby, of which City A.M. is the official paper, is open to three-year old thoroughbred colts and fillies, but it has been 105 years since the race was won by a filly, the last being Fifinella in 1916.

This year will be the 232nd running of the iconic race. The Derby originated at a celebration following the running of the Oak Stakes in 1779. At the party, hosted by the 12th Earl of Derby a new race was planned. Legend has it the Earl of Derby and one of his guests, Sir Charles Bunbury, steward of the Jockey Club, were both in the running to lend their name to this new event. The story goes that the decision was made by the flip of a coin.

Though Bunbury lost out to Derby to name the race, he gained some recompense in the inaugural running of the Derby where Diomed, a colt owned by Sir Charles Bunbury, was first home over the one mile contest on Epsom Downs, netting Sir Charles prize money of £1,065 15s. The first four runnings were contested over one mile, increasing to 12 furlongs in 1784. It took Lord Derby until 1787 to take a victory with a horse called Sir Peter Teazle.

In 1913, the race gained new infamy when suffragette Emily Davison threw herself in front of the King’s horse Anmer to draw attention to the campaign. She became a martyr for the cause.

Bernard Kantor, co-founder and managing director of Investec, is proud to be involved with the historic races. “2011 sees our third consecutive year sponsoring the Investec Derby Festival at Epsom. The event is a wonderful sporting occasion celebrating integrity, energy and performance – qualities we share.”

Looking forward to the running of one of the jewels in the crown of the racing season, Kantor says “the event continues to grow in stature and has a worldwide following which works as a great platform for our brand. We are very proud of our continuing relationship with Epsom and eagerly await this years festival.”

Walter Swinburn, the jockey of the 1981 Derby winner Shergar will be guest of honour at this year’s Investec Derby Festival. Swinburn, just 19 years old old when he won the world’s greatest flat race in the colours of His Royal Highness The Aga Khan, said: “The Derby is the one race that everyone dreams of winning. I grew up wanting to win this race, as my father had ridden in it and I was fortunate enough to win it on three separate occasions.”

It is 30 years since a fresh-faced Walter Swinburn stormed to the first of his three victories. “Each one was very different but the one I recall the most was Shergar,” says Swinburn. He held the colt in a prominent position before kicking for home rounding the Tattenham corner, thundering to victory by a record-breaking 10 lengths. “I am honoured to have been asked to be the Guest of Honour for the two-day festival this year, the Derby to my mind remains the ultimate test of the thoroughbred.”

Anthony Cane, chairman of Epsom Downs Racecourse, said he was honoured Walter Swinburn will be guest of honour.

“As a spectator 30 years ago, one will never forget the ease with which Shergar won and it seems particularly poignant as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of his victory along with His Royal Highness The Aga Khan, who celebrates 50 years of owning and breeding horses.”

And with such a rollercoaster history, it’s odds on that this year’s Derby will deliver even more surprises for racing fans.

3 - The Investec Derby is open to three-year old thoroughbred colts and fillies.

4 - Four greys have won the Derby. Gustavus in 1821, Tagalie in 1912, Mahmoud in 1936 and Airborne in 1946.

5 - Only two owners have seen their horses win the Derby five times. George Wyndham, The Third Earl of Egremont won five Derby races between 1782 and 1826, while Aga Khan III repeated the feat between 1930 and 1952.

7 - Three trainers have won the Derby on a record seven occasions. Robert Robson between 1793 and 1823, John Porter between 1868 and 1899, and Fred Darling between 1922 and 1941, all trained their horses to seven Epsom victories.

18 - The age of Lester Piggott when he won his first Derby in 1954 on Never Say Die. He is the youngest jockey to have won the race in the modern age, but John Parsons was thought to be aged only 16 when he won on Caractacus in 1862.

34 - The largest Derby field was the 34 that ran in 1862. There is now a safety limit of 20.

151 - The number of seconds that it took Workforce to win the Investec Derby in 2010. The times of 2m 31.33 seconds is the fastest winning time at Epsom.

1,250,000 - The 2011 Investec Derby will feature a prize fund of at least £1,250,000.